INDEX

Letter From Harry Nichols December 1939

Letter From Harry Nichols December 1940

Letter From Harry Nichols June 1942

Letter From Harry Nichols January 1943

Letter From Harry Nichols February 1943

Letter From Harry Nichols June 1943

Letter From Harry Nichols February 1943

Letter From Harry Nichols September 1943

Letter From Harry Nichols February 1944

Letter From Harry Nichols Message Form May 1945

Letter From James Lomas March 1943

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The following letters are from Pte. W. H Nichols C Company 5th Manchester Regiment to Nellie Lomas of Managers Houses, off Firs Lane, Westleigh and show his progress from enlistment, to his promotion to Corporal and subsequent wounding and imprisonment in Germany

Pte. W.H. Nichols
C Company 5th Manchester Regiment
Heyden Bridge, Northumberland
Friday 13th
Dear Friend                                                                                                                                                                         

 At last I am writing to you to let you know where we are and I may say we are soldiering now, you will be able to guess what nice country it is round here and the last view on the list is the castle (Langley Castle) where we are billeted and I can tell you it is no joke running up and down stairs with a full pack on. I may add they are spiral staircases and only narrow and if you meet anyone coming down you get jammed and one or the other has to go back. Well Nellie I am sorry I have been so long letting you know where I am, I only wish it was over, you have an idea what it is like at Leigh during the blackout, well you can understand what we feel like when it is dark about 6 o'clock with nowhere to go only to roost on the floor with two blankets and your boots for a pillow.Where is your brother and how is he getting on? How I miss that Sergeant Majors tea now. Well Nellie I am in the best of health and we are on the banks of the river Tyne half way between Carlisle and Newcastle. It would be alright in spring but these dark nights it's terrible. They say we are stopping here until Christmas then over the water somewhere. So for the present cheerio and wishing you as I wish myself, all the best, goodnight, goodnight remember me to Louie

Unsigned

Post Script - I may say it is a splendid view from the top of this old castle, the walls of which are six foot thick. As I said before it's alight for a holiday, but in these trousers no, a thousand times no.                                                                                                                                                                                         

Harry Nicholls had been to Managers Houses and knew the family "Jimmy" and the boys and even knew Louie the faithful old retainer who had worked for them since 1920 or so. Although there is only a partial date on the letter, we know from reading it that it is in the last month of 1939 seeing that subsequent letters reveal that he was wounded and taken prisoner of war on 29th May 1940.

From his last letter Harry was posted abroad and promoted to Corporal, he was wounded and taken prisoner in an unknown engagement. Both of the Stalags he was detained in are mentioned in the book "The Last Escape" by Nichol and Rennell. The first six letter are written by Corporal W.H. Nicholls - 42985 from Stalag V111 B at Teschen

30 December 1940

Dear Nellie - I was wounded through the arm and right shoulder but am pleased to report that I am now in the very best of health. I hope you and the boys are OK. We have had a good Christmas plenty to eat from our Red Cross parcels. We received two so that helped cheer us up a little, keep smiling, keep your chin up, we shall win.- Harry

There was a gap of 16 months and then a letter card

Sunday evening May 17th 1942 Stalag V111 B postmark 10/6/1942

Dear Nellie - Thanks very much for your welcome and cheery letter 9/4/1942 I was so pleased my second card found you. I have often wondered about you and the boys and I was pleased to hear that Jim was still in Blighty. Well Nellie I was wounded on the 29th May 1940 and I thought the end had come, but I was lucky, and got off with a bullet right through my right arm and one in the shoulder. I lost the use of my arm until October of the same year, and even today I have lost the use of my thumb and first two fingers, but I am quite happy and as you say i can sing and most evenings we have a sing song. We have just passed through a very hard and trying winter but now the spring is well on it's way. It gives one renewed hope, and as each day comes to a close we say "Well that's another day near Blighty" I do not know Fred but if you could let me have his number I could get in touch.Well Nellie, I have had all sorts of jobs, but just now I am in the parcel department of our Post Office, and boy oh boy, the parcels are rolling in just now and are kept quite busy. Do you know Nellie, it's like Christmas Day every day and I wish you could see the expression on the satisfied customers faces. The first thing they do is to sample the chocolate. We are all well clothed and shod, thanks to our Fighting Navy and you good people at home. Tell Jim we turn out spick and span. All polished up for church parade, and I am sure if you people at home could see us you would say how remarkable under the conditions. Yes we are still soldiers and proud of the uniform we wear, if only we could have another go, even on even terms we would be more content. Cheerio to you all, I am A1. Please write again

Letter number 3

January 10th 1943 postmarked 20/1/1943

Dear Friend - Here's wishing you all the best for 43, and I hope that Jimmy is still OK, I suppose he has been very busy lately, but done a good job of work, which did us all good. We are not downhearted Nellie, we.re coming home this year. So until that day arrives carry on with the good work Good health, good luck, good news of Jim is my only wish.

Letter number 4

Not dated but postmarked 15/2/1943

Dear Nellie, Thanks for remembering, What a beautiful message and card you sent.Any news of Jim? I am rather anxious about him, wish we could give a helping hand, I know they are doing good work. We had a good time at Xmas thanks to  the Red Cross we are getting through the winter very well (the next sentence has been censored in thick blue and is unreadable.Good luck, good health for 1943

Letter number 5

Whit Sunday 14th June 1943 and postmarked 29/6/1943

Dear Nellie - You will be pleased to hear I had a letter from Jim this week. And I was more than pleased to hear that he has come through quite safely. We were all wishing we were there, just to get a bit of our own back, you know we were never given a square deal. Well Nellie I have left the Stalag and I am out working, making cardboard from wood and up to now I like the job, we do get better food and more like home comforts. I have never felt better.

Letter number 6

Sunday evening 12th September 1943 letter card postmarked 21/10/1943

Thanks for remembering Nellie (some words obliterated stamped over) -2.8.43 but I won't half pull your ears for sending the cigs, I must say it was a very kind hearted gesture on your part and they will come in very useful even if I don't smoke them all myself, so I'll say THANK YOU VERY MUCH, but please do not deprive yourself as I am sure you have plenty to do with your hard earned money. Well Pal-o-mine I had good news from Jim two months ago from the far east and I only hope he has come through the latest big push OK. I am enclosing a group photo of the Post Office Staff and in case I have altered X marks the spot. Yes I still like my new job. I am now working on a machine of my own, did I tell you I am making cardboard from wood? I was pleased to hear that you too were doing well on the home front, but I think you have decided rightly when you say you will stay at home and keep the home fires burning for when the Boys Come Home, their citadel of liberty, their own abode of life and love, a little house, a garden path, an open door, a homely hearth when they come home they'll make once more the kind of life we're fighting for, our own kind of life; where men can be safe and happy gay and free. In dreams their footsteps homeward turn, towards those things for which they yearn--- shall build their home, their haven England Cheerio

Sometime between September 1943 and February 1944 Corporal Nicholls was moved to Stalag 344 Lamsdorf

Letter number 1

13th February 1944 postmark unclear

To my dear friend in Leigh. Thank you for your letter of 6/12/1943 by the same post I also received one from Jimmy. I was very pleased indeed to hear he had arrived back safely and I hope he has the luck to stay there, as we are expecting big things to happen any time now. I have just been re-reading your old letter (Jim's as well) you both write very well indeed and they are very encouraging. We had a very pleasant time at Christmas, we were all saying it would be the last (I wonder) I am still working at the cardboard works. It does help the time along and we are quite a happy party. So you have dared to send more cigs, thanks very much Nellie, but you will still get your ears pulled. I hope you are all having a good time with Jim being home. I wonder what his feelings were like when he saw Blighty looming in the distance. I have that pleasant experience to look forward to, lets hope it will not be long. By the time you receive this, spring will be upon us, then we will notice God's handiwork, snowdrops, crocuses, violets, even the trees are in bud, what are the words of that lovely hymn? Yes God is good all nature says, by his own hands etc.So we who watch in places dark and desolate, soon our straining eyes will see, the glorious banners of the free, the fires of dawn burn in the sky, the night is spent, the day is nigh, when all the silver chimes of peace, will strike the hour of our release.

Letter number 2

Sunday evening !8th June 1944 postmarked 5/7/1944

Dear Friend, Once again I have the pleasure of writing to you and since my last to you big things have happened. I suppose Jim has taken his part and I do hope he has come through OK, but we all know some will be unlucky. Well Nellie we are all hoping we will be home for Christmas dinner, I have now had four years of P.O.W.... life and I have had just about enough.I suppose you people on the home front are just as weary and will be glad to get back to normal times again. What changes we shall all see, for my own part each month that passes finds a few more grey hairs and on the 23rd I shall have passed my 49th milestone. I am still working at the same job and have now completed 13 months and I must say it has passed very quickly and it has been the happiest.News from England has been very late I have not received any April mail yet. I am writing this letter under a cherry tree which is covered with fruit but they are not quite ripe yet. I have spent a lovely day sunbathing one of the few really hot days we have had. By the time you receive this you will be thinking of August holidays and I do hope you enjoy them.Kind regards to you all, give me news of Jim, and God keep you all safe.

His final happy message is written on a NAAFI message form and headed No 90 Reception Camp near Oxford 24 May 1945

Letter number 3

Dear Friend - I have arrived in dear old Blighty and have to stay here until Saturday, we have had a very exciting time getting home as we were the last to be liberated by the Russians. I wish to see you for being so kind to me during my weary period behind barbed wire. I am enclosing my address and hope that Jim will write to me at home. I will come and visit you as soon as possible. Kind Regards to you all. Cheerio I remain yours truly W. H Nicholls

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Letter from Fusileer 323697 James Lomas to his niece Joan Melling

This is a refreshing war time letter to a young girl in Westleigh, detailing a journey that followed the decisive battle of El Alamein through the deserts of Egypt and Libya, to a victory parade attended by Winston Churchill. and on to the Mediterranean coast. Some passages have been slightly edited as they were irrelevant, and phrased to a level that a child would understand.

RHQ (Survey)                                                                                                                                                                                     127th Highland Field Regiment R.A.                                                                                                                                             

51st

Highland Division                                                                                                                                                                              8th Army, M. E. F.                                                                                                                                                                                    15 March 1943

Dear Joan                                                                                                                                                                                        

You may know that the fighting in Libya and Egypt was for the mastery of Egypt and thence the control of the Suez Canal. Many a time while convalescing from My illness I have looked over the sands and seen the funnels and masts of warships and merchantmen gliding past a clump of palm trees and it looks ever so queer. It seems to be travelling along through the sand. It is an really important thing as all our food, ammunition and letters have to come through that way to reach the Desert Army. There is very little vegetation in the canal zone and in the summer it is terrifically hot and we have to wear darkened glasses to prevent the eyes becoming strained by the glare of the sun on the sand. I have seen the de Lessops statue which stands right at the head of the canal and it is a huge affair standing about 20 feet in height and made (I think) entirely of bronze. The next important place in Egypt is the flourishing green delta of the River Nile on which stands Egypt's Capitol - Cairo. Cairo itself is divided into the European and native districts, the latter of which smells horrible and are not very nice places to go in. Just like Manchester Cairo has its parks, cinemas, theatres, football grounds, cricket grounds, racecourses etc.but only the white people and the better class of native go there. The civilians are mostly English, French, Greek, Egyptian or Italians. There isn't much I can add about Cairo. The buildings are particularly striking though as they are of oriental style with lots of pillars, meshwork, flat roofs, balconies and huge gardens. The best time to see the city is just at sunset when one can see the tall, elegant, graceful spires, domes and minarets of the praying towers and mosques against a background of a blood coloured sky, palm trees and the world famous Pyramids and Sphinx.

     The rest of the Delta holds no important towns and consists mainly of Arab plantations and mud huts. They live by growing wheat, maize, dates, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, grapes, tomatoes and olives, all of which grow outside in the open air.

     The natives are a filthy  lot of creatures who wash very rarely, dress themselves in rags and live in dirty, unsanitary mud houses where they are packed like sardines. Often, the house consists of one room which is used for eating and sleeping and as a place where the hens can lay eggs. They can neither read or write and are the laziest people I have ever seen. In short, they are not very nice people to know.

     The only other real place of interest in Egypt is Alexandre on the sea coast which is a big, modern town and the place where the Royal Navy stays when not on duty in the Mediterranean.

     The rest of Egypt consists of hundreds of miles of dry, arid, and unpopulated desert parts of which have never as yet been explored. Before the battle of Alamein started the 8th Army were the first the first people to go into this part of the world. It is a deathly desert with no vegetation whatsoever and for miles after miles nothing can be seen but a flat stretch of land stretching away into the distance up to the horizon. It was in country such as this that the great Battle of Alamein opened. From there right along to Tobruk it is exactly the same king of country-very flat tedious and very bumpy to travel over. There are a few small towns such as Capuzzo and Sidi Barrani but they are very poor places inhabited by a bad kind of native. Sometimes water has to be brought over a hundred miles, and in one instance we travelled 345 miles in three days and never came across a single well. We had to carry all our water with us in the trucks. It is extremely valuable and acarse and we only had one pint of water per day, in which to wash, shave, clean our clothes and wash the dixies. It sounds a very tall order - but we managed on it.Often the water is salted as it is forced from wells found in the great salt marshes which stretch for hundreds of miles along the coast. For two or three days we travelled alone over the desert and only rarely did we see a living soul. Once or twice we came across a caravan of camels and natives. These people are the real Bedouins who travel from place to place, pitching their tents whenever they fancy. The country is still lifeless but as we journeyed on towards Benghazi the scenery grew a little more vegetated  and colourful. Here the camel thorn bush abounds. It is a very tough little plant and lives in the sand and in the crevices between the rocks. It is not until we come to Mersa Brega that the flat plain changes to low lying hills covered with grass and hyacinth plants. Very few people live here so the water is still very salty and it is not until we reach Tripolitania that we see any real greenery. As a contrast to the huge wastes through which we have travelled we come up to beautiful big, flat roofed farms coloured white, red, blue, green and a variety of colours pleasing to the eyes. Everywhere is plantations and orchards cultivated by Italian colonists. I remember the morning we arrived in this country. We had been driving all night under a brilliant tropical moon and as we woke up to the sound of cocks crowing, asses braying and skylarks singing high in the sky. What a beautiful picture it made. Almost like being home again. We saw farm houses of pale green at the end of a red earth field against a sky tinted with yellow, blue, grey, green, purple, with a coppered coloured sun surmounting it all. Against a lovely background of pale green olive trees and dark green cypress trees and poplars.We met hundreds of natives here who freely exchanged eggs for tea and biscuits. We often ate 8 or 10 eggs each day.

     From thence onward it is a beautiful green countryside which greet us and we pass through such modern Italian towns as Garibaldi, Homs, Sirte, Misurata and Tripoli. For the first time for many weeks we saw millions of lovely flowers which from a distance resembled huge multi-coloured carpets. It was a most inspiring site and one that is vividly imprinted on my memory. The climax of all this journeying came with our entry into the old city of Tripoli and the night before Mr, Churchill came we spent in the famous Governors Palace. It is a huge mediaeval sort of castle, two wall of which drop sheer into the blue waters of the Mediterranean. From the battlements perched high above the city, we obtained a view of the City with its huge white buildings and villas, the straight broad avenues and boulevards lined with royal palms interspersed with gaily spouting fountains. We could see the squalid native quarter, with their mosques and domes and over everything the huge dome of the modern Roman Catholic Church dominated.It was a grand sight.

     The civilians were quite friendly towards us and they invited us to join with them in coffee. But it was forbidden to do so. After Mr. Churchill had passed we had a full military review, there were thousands of troops, airmen and sailors of all nationalities. There were Poles, French, Greek, New Zealand, American, Mauritians, Celanese, Cypriots, Palestinians, Indians and British. For miles the route was lined with Sherman and Crusader tanks together with lots of vehicles and guns. Planes roared overhead the whole time but the most spectacular sight of all were the famous infantries of the Highland Division. They marched in hundreds heralded by the mass pipe bands of Scotland's oldest and bravest Regiments. It was a wonderful spectacle and I felt really proud to be part of them.Of the Colonials the Indians were by far superior to everything.With their turbans and fiercely bristling beards these men might have been cut out of a picture book. These men are drawn from the savage fighting tribes of North India and the Khyber Pass and they have a reputation second to none for their prowess, skill and fighting in battle.

     At Tripoli we had a well earned rest and we chose to camp in the middle of a huge estate covered with oranges and lemon groves. We only had to jump up to get a lemon off a tree. There was very little to do in Tripoli as most of the shops were closed whilst we garrisoned the City.

     Of course we are no longer in Tripoli. We are now in a different sort of country and one much more pleasant to live in. After the great deserts of Libya and Egypt this is a Garden of Eden. Nature is very kind to us here and the little valleys or waddis as they are known are a riot of colour at the moment

     We did not see many birds in Egypt the most popular one is a species of hawk a horrible and dirty looking bird. They are scavengers living on all kinds of rubbish and dead matter. It is reported that Lord Roberts of Khartoum first brought the birds to Egypt to clean the place up. We see lots of owls here too. They make quite a lot of noise during the night and more than once have had a shot at them - without success.Of course we have our usual insects in the shape of flies, bees, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, lizards, frogs, butterflies and scores of others, they don't bother us with the exception of mosquitos which plague us incessantly just as the sun goes down.They are vindictive little things and when they bite they raise big lumps on the skin which irritate for hours.I haven't seen any snakes or scorpions since leaving Libya nor do I want to. The beetle's round here are enormous, black things measuring 11/2" on average. When I was at the Ruweisat Ridge in the Western Desert we once found one 3" in length and easily 2" wide I believe they are quite common too. There are thousands of wild dogs in the desert and in the native villages and they bark all night long. I once slept near a village where some feast was in progress and what with the frenzied yells of the natives and the everlasting yapping of the dogs, it sounded like nothing on earth.

     The natives use their animals as a guard to warn them that strangers are approaching. These natives live in villages of stone buildings, under huge black canvas tents, or else in a building made entirely of dead boughs and brushwood, The latter are round in shape and look very much like the kraals of South Africa. The natives are quite a cheerful lot of people and by speaking French or Arabic and the use of signs we can get what we want from them. They sell us lots of eggs. They dress simply in dirty robes and blankets just draped over their shoulders. From Cairo to Tripoli they all speak the same language, but here they speak a little French, but I cannot understand their own language.

     When I first arrived in Africa (August) it was very hot and we wore only shorts and shirts, we also wore a topee, a light hat made of pith with a wide curving brim. We never worked between 11 o'clock and 4 o'clock but rested in the shade, we soon became used to the heat and it was still very hot when the great battle of Alamein opened up. In many places in the desert the plants get their only moisture from the heavy fall of dew, indeed sometimes one would think it had been raining. When we bivouac on the sand we have to make sure our blankets are covered with a groundsheet otherwise they would be soaked in the morning. Quite often we used to stretch a tarpaulin over a hole in the ground and thus add to our meagre issue of water. Water we got from holes in the ground, if forced was usually heavily impregnated with salt. In this state it was very bitter to the taste, and it curdled the milk in our tea. Washing and shaving too is not easy as it is hard to get a lather, but we managed to get along.   I think that is all for now - Love James